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UNC Football vs. Florida State: X-Factor

How many bodies will be available on defense Saturday night?

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

After a fantastic start to last week’s game and a 35-14 advantage at halftime, the North Carolina Tar Heels seemed to be on their way to a critical Top 25 victory.

But Virginia Tech never goes away easily against UNC. The Hokies outscored the Tar Heels 23-7 in the third quarter to bring VT within five points of the Carolina lead.

The UNC defense settled down and the offense scored a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the victory, but there are several issues to address with the defensive performance last Saturday.

Co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman spoke about several of these issues in his press conference this week:

We didn’t tackle well and that was the most disappointing to me. We missed twice as many tackles as we missed the first two games. A lot of credit goes to Virginia Tech. They made us miss. I think what they do on offense is difficult. We obviously have to have a better plan for it. We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t think we got off blocks very well.

Besides these fundamental aspects of the game, another breakdown on defense came in response to the adjusted play calling by Virginia Tech.

These factors- missed tackles, getting off blocks, adjusting to changes in the opposing offense- are a matter of practice during the week and execution on Saturday.

However, one element of the defensive letdown on Saturday will not be an easy fix.

Injuries are starting the pile up for the Tar Heels on defense, and some key contributors will miss action again this Saturday.

As of writing, talented starting cornerback Storm Duck is ruled out for the game against Florida State. Starting nickelback Ja’Qurious Conley is questionable for Saturday.

Against Virginia Tech, these two injuries forced the Carolina coaching staff to put Patrice Rene and Cam Kelly back into the lineup before they intended due to both suffering ACL injuries in 2019.

The biggest question mark for injuries this weekend will be junior defensive tackle Ray Vohasek. He was missed this past weekend against Virginia Tech, and the depth of the defensive line was exposed with his departure.

Additionally, hurting the depth of the defense, true freshman linebacker Ethan West is out for the season with an upper body injury and Kedrick Bingley-Jones is questionable for Saturday with a lower body injury.

With a FSU offense that has a lot of weapons, the x-factor this weekend is the health and depth of the Tar Heel defense.

The Seminoles rank eighth in the country with 306 total offensive plays in 2020. With extended drives, especially in the second half, will the Tar Heels have enough left in the tank to get off the field?

Each team must deal with injuries during the season, and this is no different for UNC. Yet, an undefeated record and high national ranking create higher stakes each week.

However, with such a disparity in snap count between certain players in different position groups in the last game, there may be reason for alarm if there are more significant injuries on top of the absence of Vohasek and Conley this week.

Will the Tar Heels overcome injuries and depth concerns to take care of the Seminoles Saturday night?